Six years ago, Amnesty International shocked the world by exposing human rights abuses and child labour in the DRC. The report, titled ‘This ... is what we die for’ painted a grim picture of abuse, tragedy and hardship in the DRC’s artisanal cobalt mines.
We hope that this consultation process will give rise to a strong commitment to free and fair elections, a timetable for the transition to a new democratic government, and ideas for political and institutional reforms that could build a strong and sustainable democratic Guinea. This is what our people and the coup leaders say they want.
Parity as an opportunity
If Colonel Doumbouya really wants to “not repeat the mistakes of the past”, he and other officials should seize this opportunity to implement fundamental reforms that will integrate and empower women. Even in these uncertain times, it is essential not to forget them as they will ultimately benefit all Guineans.
A new government that wishes to build on democratic values and transparency will not be able to achieve such a goal unless women are equally involved. It has been widely demonstrated that empowering women has significant social and security benefits. New research shows that societies that oppress women (unequal property rights, early marriage practices, preferring sons and allowing violence against women to occur) are more prone to violence and instability.
Empowering women also has economic benefits. According to a World Bank projection, reducing gender inequality in Guinea could lead to per capita GDP growth of more than 10% by 2035.
Guinea’s legal framework has significant gaps when it comes to promoting, enforcing and monitoring gender equality, including employment and economic benefits, according to UN Women. Guinea made progress in 2019 by adopting a parity law for electoral lists. As of February 2021, 31% of government ministers were women, compared to an average of only 22% worldwide and in the Economic Community of West African States. We must ensure that we do not regress, and we must put women at the centre of the new governance structures that are being formed.
New technologies and leadership positions
Guinea (and other African countries for that matter) could support women’s empowerment and financial inclusion, and thus strengthen the country’s social and economic stability, in three ways. First, the public and private sectors need to be more proactive in developing and implementing gender-focused policies to enhance women’s inclusion significantly. Banks can make it easier for women to open personal and business accounts by changing their requirements. Financial institutions, in collaboration with government agencies, can develop targeted programmes for women entrepreneurs seeking to formalise their business activities, whether they are small or informal.
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These policies should also cover new technologies. According to the Mobile Gender Gap Report 2021, the gender gap in mobile internet use in sub-Saharan Africa is 27%, which means that fewer women benefit from mobile banking and business services than men. If gender parity in online sales could be achieved by 2025, this would add nearly $15bn to the African market by 2030.
We must put women at the centre of the new governance structures that are being formed.
Secondly, there needs to be more women in leadership positions. In Guinea’s dissolved parliament, only 16.7% of the seats were held by women. In my own experience in government and on Guinean boards, the few women directors of banks and insurance companies are often overshadowed. Increasing the number of women in senior management positions would enable companies to better understand a largely untapped customer base.
Women are also underrepresented in Guinea’s finance sector, just like in the rest of the world. UN Women and the International Organisation of Supreme Audit Institutions Development Initiative found that finance minister posts are held by women in only 11% of countries around the world and that less than a third of all heads of national audit offices are women. How can we expect governments and financial agencies to develop gender-focused policies when the leaders know so little about the unique challenges that women face?
Understanding the barriers
Thirdly, we need to collect and analyse more data on women. As of December 2020, barely a third of the indicators needed to track Guinea’s performance in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals from a gender perspective were available. Only 3.3% were in ‘high performance’ categories. The most recent data available on the percentage of women that have access to a bank account in sub-Saharan Africa dates from 2017. Three years and a persistent pandemic later, the gender gap has probably widened.
As noted earlier, most mobile phone users in sub-Saharan Africa are men. Therefore, it is very difficult to understand how women access and use mobile services in sub-Saharan Africa. If we could help improve women’s access to these services and better understand how they use them, businesses would be in a much better position to serve them.
Businesses and non-governmental organisations can help the government find up-to-date data on the barriers women face today in terms of financial inclusion.
We need to better understand how current policies affect women. As the world becomes increasingly digital, we now need – more than ever before – products and services that meet their needs. Driving change can be extremely difficult, but I urge Guineans to take advantage of this delicate transition period to lay a solid foundation for women’s economic, social and political participation as full citizens. Our country and economy depend on it.
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